Delayed Language Development

A general rule of thumb is that kids who have no words other than "mama" or "dada" by 18 months should get a hearing test to determine if their delayed language development is due to hearing issues.

Question

My daughter is 16 months old and has no significant words in her vocabulary. What should I be doing to help her?

Dr. Greene's Answer

A general rule of thumb is that kids who have no words other than “mama” or “dada” by 18 months should get a hearing test to determine if the delayed language development is due to hearing issues. This would be in addition to the hearing screening tests that I recommend for all newborns before they even leave the hospital for the first time.

By “words” we don’t mean complete English words, but using the same sound for the same object, such as “ba” for ball or “u” for up. The first words kids learn are not those they hear most frequently, but those they hear most frequently as single word sentences, such as “no” or “bye-bye.”

Using baby signs can help speed this process up by using the same hand signal or body language. The baby signs books are great, but you can also use simple ones that you come up with on your own. Also, kids who point at objects at this age will tend to gain language much quicker than those who don’t. With no pointing or no significant words by 18 months, I send kids for a speech and/or developmental evaluation.

 
Last medical review on: May 14, 2008
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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